Israel and Hamas reportedly near truce after days of relative quiet

Jerusalem official quoted as saying Gaza ceasefire ‘virtually done,’ as defense minister mulls lifting border restrictions

A picture taken on August 9, 2018 shows people inspecting the rubble of a cultural center following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
A picture taken on August 9, 2018 shows people inspecting the rubble of a cultural center following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Israel and Hamas are reportedly on the verge of reaching a ceasefire agreement following a lull in fighting after a major flareup last week that saw the sides on the cusp of a full-scale military confrontation.

An Israeli official told the Los Angeles Times that a deal with the terror group that rules the Strip is “virtually done.”

There was no official Israeli confirmation of progress toward a deal, but senior defense officials are set to discuss easing a closure of the Palestinian enclave later Tuesday.

Israeli and Hamas officials have reportedly been engaged in intensive efforts via Egypt and the UN in recent weeks to reach a long-term deal to return calm to the restive border region in exchange for easing restrictions on the Strip. Last week a Hamas official predicted a truce would be inked by the end of the month.

Israel has officially been mum on the talks with Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group which seized control of the Strip in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel.

Last week, Hamas announced it had reached an Egyptian- and UN-brokered ceasefire agreement with Israel, after a day in which dozens of rockets and mortar shells rained down on southern Israel and the military responded with extensive airstrikes.

Jerusalem officially denied that a deal had been reached, but the days since Hamas’ announcement have seen a significant decrease in violence in Gaza.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is set to meet with senior members of the security establishment later on Tuesday to discuss easing restrictions on the Gaza Strip following the decrease in violence. A senior defense official said reopening the Kerem Shalom crossing and extending the fishing zone of the Gaza coast would be considered in the meeting.

Additionally, further economic incentives will be considered in the coming days if there is no renewal of violence, specifically the launching of incendiary airborne devices from Gaza toward Israeli territory. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

There has been a significant drop this week in arson attacks from the Palestinian enclave.

Palestinian security forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority stand at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on July 9, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

On Sunday, the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said it was the first day in several months that no fires were caused by incendiary balloons, kites or other devices flown from Gaza toward Israeli communities bordering the coastal enclave.

However, a spokesman later said it appeared that at least one fire was in fact started by the the arson devices. The defense official disputed that the blaze was started by arson.

Senior Israel officials maintain the country has not agreed to the ceasefire which Hamas announced late Thursday and said went into effect at midnight. Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, claims the deal was mediated by Egypt and other regional players.

Since Hamas announced the truce late Thursday, no rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel and the IDF has conducted no airstrikes, indicating a de-facto understanding even if no formal deal was signed.

The calm marks a rare respite in the border region over the lasts everal months, which have seen near daily arson attacks, shootings, rocket fire and border protests, as well as Israeli reprisal air raids and cross-border shellings.

Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, over 150 Palestinian haves been killed in the violence. Hamas has admitted that dozens of the fatalities were its members or those belonging to other Gaza terror groups.

Senior Israeli officials have said that “quiet will be met by quiet,” implying that the country is not seeking an escalation of violence, but has not openly committed to an end to hostilities. Instead, military officials hope the terror group has internalized the damage Israel can cause to its infrastructure.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, speaks with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, right, and other senior military officers during a visit to the Gaza Division on August 13, 2018. (Shahar Levi/Defense Ministry)

On Monday, Channel 10 news reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travlled to Egypt to discuss the Gaza ceasefire efforts with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

Quoting US officials, the report said Netanyahu and Sissi met in May to discuss a potential deal for Gaza that would see a complete ceasefire with Hamas and the return of the Palestinian Authority to the Strip in exchange for the easing of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades and humanitarian gestures.

Israeli officials want to include the return of civilian captives and remains of soldiers being held in Gaza as part of the deal, but Hamas is reportedly seeking to leave that issue out of a potential truce and only commit to discuss it in a second round of talks.

A brushfire near Kibbutz Re’im east of the Gaza border, July 25, 2018. (Courtesy Fire and Rescue Services Southern District)

Despite the apparent truce and reprieve in rocket fire, some violence has continued on the Gaza border. On Friday, Israeli tanks struck two Hamas posts Friday evening after protesters hurled a grenade at troops during border clashes.

Around 9,000 Palestinians participated in the violent weekly border protests on Friday. Some protesters rioted near the fence, threw makeshift bombs, Molotov cocktails and rocks at Israeli soldiers, and burned tires to create a smokescreen. In one incident, a grenade was thrown at Israeli troops, but caused no casualties. Several attempts were made to breach the security fence.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said three Palestinians were killed in Friday’s violence.

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